Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is an inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. Despite the name, it’s not caused by the influenza virus. The most common culprit is one of a number of other viruses, including rotavirus, adenovirus, calicivirus, and astrovirus.
But gastroenteritis can also be caused by a potentially more serious bacterial infection, such as Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus, Campylobacter, or E. coli. Still other cases are caused by parasites such as giardia.
If your toddler has gastroenteritis, she may have diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, chills, and achiness. Her symptoms may be mild or severe, and they may last for just a few hours or for days, depending on the culprit.
If your child has a fever and seems uncomfortable, you may want to give her the appropriate dose of children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Never give your child aspirin, which is associated with Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children with gastroenteritis resume a normal diet (staying away from fatty foods) as soon as possible. That includes such staples as complex carbohydrates (whole-grain breads and cereals), lean meats, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables. if the bug kills your child’s appetite and she misses a few days of good nutrition, don’t worry. As long as she’s hydrated, she’ll be fine.
For toddlers and young children, use an ORS, which contains the right mix of salt, sugar, potassium and other nutrients to help replace lost body fluids.
Children older than 1 year may also have clear soups, clear sodas or juice mixed with water to help prevent dehydration. You should avoid giving your child plain water and dark sodas. Water alone does not contain enough salt and nutrients to help with dehydration. Dark sodas are typically very high in sugar and can irritate your child’s stomach.
oral rehydration solution, or ORS: Brands of ORS include Pedialyte, Ricelyte, Rehydralyte and the World Health Organization’s Oral Rehydration Solution (WHO-ORS). If you don’t have access to store-bought ORS, you can mix 8 teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in a quart (4 cups) of water. This mixture lacks potassium but is otherwise a good ORS. You can supply some potassium by adding a cup of orange juice to your homemade ORS or feeding your child some banana.
If your child keeps vomiting, wait 30 to 60 minutes after the last time he or she vomited, and then give him or her a few sips of an ORS. Small amounts every few minutes may stay down better than a large amount all at once.
Diarrhea usually doesn’t last long. If it’s caused by an infection, diarrhea is a way for the body to get rid of the infection. Giving medicines that stop diarrhea may actually interfere with the body’s efforts to heal. Antibiotics are usually not necessary either. Talk to your family doctor if you think your child needs medicine.
Teach your child how to wash her hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after every bathroom visit and before meals or touching food. The same goes for you and other family members, as well as daycare staff.